As I addressed in an earlier blog, Big & Rich star John Rich's recent decision, to name Julio Iglesias Jr. the winner of CMT's celebrity singing competition Gone Country, has NOT gone down well with his fans. I can't recall such outrage throughout the country community since Natalie Maines's ill-advised Dubya remarks, or at least since Faith Hill flipped out backstage at the 2006 CMA Awards.
Since Friday's controversial Gone Country finale (on which Julio beat out fan favorites like Bobby Brown, Dee Snider, and Diana DeGarmo), message boards on the websites for CMT, Big & Rich, and even Reality Rocks have been bombarded with protests by angry country fans--all demanding a rematch, a radio boycott of Julio's country single, and/or John Rich's cowboy-hatted head on a platter.
"What an incredible predicament I found myself in on the finale of Gone Country. I gotta tell you, I was actually secretly hoping that the episode where I heard the original songs for the first time that I would be able to start crossing people off the list. I liked everybody's personality and everybody was bringing something great to the table, but I was hoping that a few of them would write songs that weren't very good, and I could just cross them off the list based on the lack of greatness of the song. But then everybody wrote a viable song, in my opinion. Literally everybody. And if you know me, you know I'm a real hardcore guy when it comes to integrity of songwriting. I mean, I've made my career on songwriting, but I wasn't able to cross anybody off the list at that point, which was a little concerning to me because then I knew it was all going to boil down to the performances.
"So on the finale, as I'm watching everybody perform, once again it was not extremely clear who was in the lead up until I saw Julio [Iglesias Jr.] perform. You can actually see my reaction on TV where my eyes kinda got wide and I went, "Wow." There was a palpable magnetism between Julio and that audience, and not just the women -- men and women. The whole entire place moved about three feet closer to the stage when he hit that chorus. It was the X-factor that I talked about in the final episode. I kinda laid out the criteria of what it was going to take for somebody to get that final little edge and the final little edge to me was the X-factor -- the X-factor being that thing that you can't put your finger on, but you witnessed it, you felt it, and it was real. And gotta tell you, Julio had that.
"Diana DeGarmo's vocals were so incredible. Had it just been based on vocal performance, Diana would have won it hands down. She had a strong response from the audience, but it was not, in my opinion, as strong as the one Julio had. So that was one real major factor in me picking Julio. And, to be quite honest with you, the other real major factor was, I think, that Julio Iglesias Jr. brings an element to country music that does not exist -- and that being the Spanish-English element. I remember growing up in Texas and hearing Johnny Rodriguez on my radio station, and about half my friends were Spanish kids -- Mexican kids -- and their first language was Spanish. They were all my buddies. I remember Johnny Rodriguez turning them on to country music. They liked it, but it wasn't something they completely related to until they saw Johnny Rodriguez.
"Well, I think, it's been 30 years since that, and I think it's time we pay attention to that audience again. I see Spanish-speaking people coming to Big & Rich shows by the hundreds and thousands, depending on the part of the country that we're in, and right now, there's nobody in our format speaking to that audience. So that was another major factor for me that I didn't think anybody else on the cast brought to the table, obviously. He is a true international artist. Anybody that knows me knows I love country music so much, I want to see it become the most popular format of music in the world. I want it to be the biggest thing in the world, and one thing we have to do to do that is to embrace artists that can help us take it around the world and that can educate the world about how great our music is. Julio is such a class act and always carries himself with integrity. Those are the factors that weighed in to me to pick him as the winner of Gone Country."
So, will John's explanation change the haters' minds? Will country fans and radio programmers give Julio Jr.'s John Rich-produced country single, "The Way I Want You," a chance? We'll just have to wait and see. ¡Que problema!